January 25, 1533: Henry VIII Marries Anne Boleyn (For the Second Time)

In the pre-dawn darkness of January 25, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn slipped out of Whitehall Palace to the gatehouse, accompanied by a few selected friends. It was a new moon, and so their movements would have been covered by darkness - I've wondered if they chose the date for that reason.

Nicholas Harpsfield wrote a narrative description of the events later. The dialogue is probably imagined, but it's likely that some similar exchange did take place.

Dr. Rowland Lee, Henry's chaplain, was nervous. What the king was asking him to do could get him excommunicated, after all.

The king had asked Lee to come perform his wedding to Anne Boleyn - a wedding that was illegal in the eyes of the church because Henry was still married to Katharine of Aragon.

Lee said to the king, "Sir, I trust you have the Pope's license, both that you may marry and that I may join you together in marriage."

"What else?" Henry replied, lying through his teeth.

Lee wasn't mollified. And he was right to suspect the king was lying. After all, if the pope had actually agreed to give Henry his annulment, it would have sent shockwaves through all of Europe. The news would have set every tongue wagging and been known by everyone from king to stableboy. The king would have celebrated his triumph with feasts and jousts for weeks.

And yet, here he was, saying he had a license from the pope that no one knew had been issued.

You can almost hear his timorous tone as Lee asked to see the actual paperwork.

"This matter touches us all very near, and therefore it is expedient that the license be read before us all, or else we run all — and I more deep than any other — into excommunication in marrying your grace without any bans being asked, and in a place unhallowed, and no divorce as yet given of the first matrimony."

Harpsfield writes that the king seemed amiable in his response, but you can imagine a steely look in his eyes.

"Why, Master Rowland, think you me a man of so small faith and credit? You know my past life well and have heard my confession. Do you think me a man of so small and slender foresight and consideration of my affairs that unless all things were safe and sure I would enterprise this matter? I have truly a license, but it is stored in another safe place where no man goes but myself, which, if it were seen, should reveal us all. But if I should, now that it waxes towards day, fetch it, and be seen so early abroad, there would rise a rumor and talk. Go forth in God's name, and do that which appertains to you. I will take upon me all other danger."

Lee must have felt backed into a corner. He couldn't tell the king to his face that he thought he was lying, especially with the king saying he would take all of the repercussions on his own shoulders.

And so, Lee performed the ceremony.

Anne and Henry had already married in late November, and she had likely discovered by this point that she was pregnant. However, the ceremony at Dover had stayed too secret.

Henry and Anne may have also been giving a nod to traditional marriage customs, in which a foreign princess was married once by proxy, and then had a second ceremony once she reached her new husband's side.

In a few months, Henry would have his bride also doubly crowned: as consort, and as a monarch in her own right using the crown of St. Edward.

Three years later, Henry would also have his marriage to Anne doubly ended, first with an annulment and then with the stroke of a sword.

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